Acrisure Stadium kicks off season with Rib Fest

Rio Scarcelli | Staff Writer | A handful of vendors brought their ribs to Acrisure Stadium over Labor Day weekend.

Rio Scarcelli | Staff Writer

Sept. 8, 2022

It was a rib-tickling time for Pittsburgh residents from Sept. 1-5 with Acrisure Stadium’s Kickoff and Rib Fest. With visits from Steely McBeam, performances from The Clarks and over 20 food vendors, the weekend opened up with Pitt’s victory over West Virginia on Sept. 1.

Kickoff and Rib Fest was an event for all ages. Football lovers and foodies alike could explore between Acrisure Stadium and Stage AE, accompanied by the sounds of music and excitement.

“I was really overtaken because I’ve been around Pittsburgh, but I haven’t been to events,
Duquesne sophomore Ryan Graves said. “Rib Fest was amazing because it’s the first time I’ve been to a community event, and I felt the hype.”

Each day offered a different form of entertainment: including bouncy houses, rock climbing walls and a 5K around the North Shore. From there, people were greeted by booths ranging from ribs, corn dogs, kombucha, lemonade and old-fashioned soda.

“There wasn’t a ton to see immediately, but as soon as you got to the main strip, all you could see were rows of people in front of booths,” sophomore Ellie Troiani said. “I don’t even like ribs, but from seeing the excitement, I wanted to eat them.”

Where guests could move at their own pace, it was a different story for the cooks and food-runners participating in Rib Fest. Twelve companies from across the country signed up to serve at the event and compete to win the best of two categories: Best Ribs and Best Sauce.

Barbecuer Petey Marshall of Off the Bone has been a vendor at Rib Fest for the past 15 years and counting. Of those times, the company placed top three — nine times in both competitive categories.

“We swept 2021, but that’s not even all of the awards,” Marshall said. “It’s about relationships, we like to put smiles on people’s faces.”

Having eaten at Off the Bone, Graves said the barbeque had “really fantastic” ribs.

“It was the perfect mix of easy to bite off the bone and chewy,” he said. “They lived up to the company’s name.”

Ribs would not be part of a barbeque without their original rubs and sauces. Off the Bone varied its selection with 16 different rubs and what Marshall and the team called “comeback sauce.”

The cooks felt so confident in the sauce that they left two five-liter jugs on their counter for people to pour as much as they would like.

“This sauce is so good, obviously, you’re gonna come back for it,” Marshall said.

While some vendors have been coming to Rib Fest for years, new barbeque companies like Jim’s Smokin’ Que shared their thoughts on coming to the event for the first time.

Chris Fisher, a cook for the Pittsburgh-based company, talked about his experience from other rib competitions in comparison to this one.

“This is crazy busy, but we’re just thankful to be here this year,” Fisher said. “We prepare hundreds of pounds of ribs on our two wood-fired smokers, and it takes eight hours to set up before the guests even get to enter the door.”

Jim’s Smokin’ Que said they pride themselves on a simple barbeque rub, and repeat the same steps for glazing the ribs afterward.

Going for a “less is more” mentality, the cooks like to keep their recipes as minimal as possible for the sake of consistency, appealing to a wide variety of tastes.

“Each judge is different. They decide based on their taste,” Fisher said. “We don’t know what they like. We try to prepare it as well as they can, but it’s subjective.”

Sweeping the competition, Carolina Rib Kings won the category for Best Ribs and Best Sauce.

For all of the barbeque companies participating in this year’s event, the common goal seemed to be trying to bring a fun and delicious experience to the table for the guests and cooks alike.